Monday, October 05, 2009

Why the Pure Theory of Law Matters: Understanding the Misunderstood Kelsen (Part 2)

In the first part of my article, we have discussed the basic concepts of Hans Kelsen's Pure Theory of Law. In this second part, we will discuss the concept of Norms, and the relationship between efficacy and validity of the law.

Norms, the Hierarchy of Norms, and the Basic Norm

A discussion on Kelsen's theory of law wouldn't be complete without discussing the Norms. As I've said previously, according to Kelsen, the law can be viewed as a specific social technique and as a norm. What is a norm? Kelsen describes norm as a rule expressing the fact that somebody ought to act in a certain way, without implying that "anybody" really wants the person to act that way. Further, Kelsen also defines norm as an impersonal and anonymous command (this is made by Kelsen to counter argue John Austin's definition of law, i.e. law as a command from a sovereign).

From his definition, we can conclude three important concepts: (i) a norm is a rule that provide certain "guidelines" to its intended subject whereas such intended subject is ought to follow such "guidelines", (ii) a norm is neutral, it is not representing the will and interest of certain people or entity, and the most important thing is (iii) the validity of the norm is not related to the entity which stipulate such norm (that's why it is considered as an impersonal and anonymous command) but on the validity of the norm which gives authority to such entity.

Following Kelsen's way of thinking, the validity of a norm (let us call it as Norm No. 1) shall be determined by the validity of the norm having the authority to create/establish Norm No. 1 (let us call this second norm as Norm No. 2) in accordance with the procedures stipulated by Norm No. 2. Logically, Norm No. 2 should have a higher level than Norm No. 1 and both should exist in the same order/system. If not, how can Norm No. 2 create and determine that Norm No. 1 is valid? Thus we've seen the birth of the Hierarchy of Norms. Pretty simple, eh?

The process shall be repeated until we reach the highest level of the Hierarchy of Norms, where we will find the Basic Norm. What are the characteristics of the Basic Norm? According to Kelsen, the Basic Norm, unlike any other Norms, is not created in a legal procedure by a law creating organ. It is not -as a positive legal norm is- valid because it is created in a certain way by a legal act, but it is valid because it is presupposed to be valid because without this presupposition, no human act could be interpreted as a legal, especially as a norm-creating act.

Among all other concepts that were introduced in the Pure Theory of Law, the Basic Norm is the most controversial one, especially with respect to the presupposition of the existence and validity of the Basic Norm. For some scholars, such presupposition defeats the entire purpose of the Pure Theory of Law to create a scientific legal theory. How could a scientific legal theory explain that the validity of the Basic Norm, which is basically the ultimate source of validity of all other Norms, thus acting as the core of the Pure Theory of Law, depends on a presupposition?

I can understand their critics, but in this case, the presupposition should be correct. Citing Kelsen's own words: "The whole function of this Basic Norm is to confer law-creating power on the act of the first legislator and on all the other acts based on the first act. To interpret these acts of human beings as legal acts and their products as binding Norms, and that means to interpret the empirical material which presents itself as law as such, is possible only on the condition that the Basic Norm is presupposed as a valid Norm." Okay, the words might be confusing, but what are the truly meaning of these words?

As mentioned in Part 1, apart from characterizing the law as a norm, the Pure Theory of Law also characterizes the law as a specific technique for social organization. The Pure Theory of Law also rejects any attempt to establish a relationship between the validity of the law and any value which may be reflected within such law. A law might be unjust or just, but being an unjust law doesn't necessarily means that such law is invalid. As a logical consequence, when we reach the Basic Norm level, the only way for us to conclude that the entire legal system is valid is by presupposing the validity of the Basic Norm. We need to remember that the Pure Theory of Law is always about the positive laws, laws made by men. Basic Norm as the ultimate Norm which enable all derivative Norms to be considered valid is derived from social facts and such Basic Norm becomes valid, because we assume it as a valid Norm.

Let me give you an example: Why we stick with the 1945 Constitution and consider it as the basis of all laws stipulated in Indonesia? It is not a sacred document created by God, in fact it is a document made by a bunch of people that we call as the Indonesian founding fathers, which was later amended by the Indonesian parliament. It was once replaced by another constitutions and then we returned to use it using a decree of a president which is obviously has a lower status than the constitution. Yet, we're still using the 1945 Constitution and we still believe that all regulations in Indonesia should not contravene the 1945 Constitution and that all regulations in Indonesia obtain their validity since the 1945 Constitution allows the stipulation of laws and regulations.

Yes, 1945 Constitution can be considered as a Basic Norm, but is it valid because it corresponds with justice or the interest of all Indonesian people? Not necessarily. It was not even drafted by the entire Indonesian people, rather it was made by a committee whose most members were appointed by Japanese government. It is without doubt that some Indonesian people might have different views with the idea of such committee and the content of the 1945 Constitution. Even the drafters of the 1945 Constitution and its amendments could have different views among themselves when they draft the 1945 Constitution. So why? Why we still use the 1945 Constitution? The answer lies in Kelsen's theory, the 1945 Constitution is valid and becomes the source of all Indonesian laws because we assume that the 1945 Constitution is valid. That is the only logical explanation, the principle of legitimacy.

That's why Kelsen acknowledged in his "General Theory of Law and State" that the Basic Norm of a legal order can be replaced by a revolution which include the so-called coup d'etat.

Validity and Efficacy of the Law

Before we move on, let me explain first the meaning of efficacy. Efficacy of the law means the effectiveness of such law with respect to its effect to the society, i.e. the degree to which the law is being actually complied by the society. It is common for us to see laws which are so ineffective that the existence of those laws mean nothing to the society, and other type of laws which are very effective and have a high rate of compliance. The main question is, can we consider a law that is not efficacious as a valid law?

In Kelsen's opinion, consistent with his theory, the efficacy of the total legal order is a condition for the validity of the relevant Norms, but not the reason for their validity, because the validity of a Norm depends on whether it is created in a constitutional way or not (please refer to above discussion on the Hierarchy of Norms). Therefore, the degree of compliance of law does not affect the validity of such law. In other words, it is possible for us to have a valid law which has a low degree of compliance or no compliance at law. One example that I could think of would be the regulation that obliges companies that have trade business licenses (SIUP) to submit periodical reports to the Department of Trade. Based on my experience, the percentage of non compliance for this particular obligation reaches 99.9999%. Pretty amazing!

There is more to it. Kelsen also acknowledged that a law/norm wouldn't be valid anymore if the total legal system has lost its efficacy. Theoretically, this is correct. Suppose the current Indonesian legal system loses its efficacy, say because of a revolution, where the 1945 Constitution is entirely dismissed and replaced, and the government has been toppled up. Unless there is a new constitution having a transitional provision which says that the remaining laws remain to be valid, we would lose the legal basis to consider that such remaining laws are still valid.

However, since the possibility of having such worst case scenario is very rare, we could stick to the basic principle of the Pure Theory of Law, i.e. the efficacy of the law does not affect the validity of such law. I believe that this is a very important concept having significant practical implications, and we shall further discuss such implementation in the last part of my post, where we shall also discuss the implementation of other parts of Kelsen's Pure Theory of Law.


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